A New Career

Passport photo from 1981

Some people say that a person should dress up, get a hair cut, and prepare well for a new job opportunity.  Excellent advice, but I haven’t always followed it!

When I walked into Tip Top Shoe Repair and Moccasin Shop, I looked a lot like my passport photo from that same year, although I must have been better dressed in the photo (scanned here) than when I was looking for a job in 1981.

I walked through the door and met Wayne Clarke, the owner and sole employee (Wayne would have liked that pun).  I just told him that it looked like a fun job and asked if he needed any help.  I hadn’t given any real thought as to why he should be interested in me or why I should be there rather than the Taco Bell across the street.  He asked if I had any experience, and I told him the truth: I had repaired my hockey pads and really enjoyed doing it.  I couldn’t come up with anything better, but it was enough.

Wayne told me that he had been considering hiring a helper but that he had hoped to get someone who knew something about shoe repair or who had at least had some experience in retail (we did a pretty good business selling Minnetonka Moccasins).  I had no experience in shoe repair and had never sold anything except root beer and burgers at the A&W.  Wayne asked me if I knew how to sew, and continuing in the unflatteringly honest vein that I had established, I told him no.

Wayne told me that he would hire me for a one week trial.  At the end of that week, either one of us could end the relationship, no questions asked.  The first thing he had me do was to learn how to use a long-arm treadle sewing machine with a walking foot that you can move in any direction.  This is a very common machine in old shoe repair shops, although they are most often electric now.  This can be used to repair purses, uppers of shoes and boots, jackets, and a variety of other light- to mid-weight leather.  Wayne started me on small scraps of leather and had me sew simple designs and straight lines.  I broke several needles but learned to replace them, and eventually I got to the point where Wayne trusted me with a real repair.

I honestly don’t remember what object it was now, but I do recall thinking that I’d better not mess it up!  I was nervous but probably not as nervous as Wayne.  I’m also sure it wasn’t my best repair ever, but I did it and it worked, and the customer liked it (or at least was too polite to complain…).  That victory established me as the person who ended up patching all the uppers in all the shoes and boots, replacing all the zippers, and sewing all the seams on jackets that came in.  It was only later that I learned that Wayne didn’t like doing that work very much, but in the meanwhile, I had found my niche!

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